Patrick H. Oosthuizen
Dept. of Mechanical and Materials Engineering
Queen‘s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada
Large numbers of engineers are today involved in many different
ways in projects that require them to work in an international
environment. Some of the ways in which engineers work in an
international environment are:
1. By working on international development projects in or with
workers from developing countries, the work usually being supported
by governmental or non-governmental aid agencies. (Water supply,
housing, medical related problems, etc.).
2. By working on projects in foreign countries on behalf of a home
based company under contract to some level of government in the
foreign country or to companies operating in these countries. (design
and construction of hydroelectric plants, dams, bridges,
transportation systems, etc.).
3. In opening new manufacturing plants in foreign countries, these
plants being designed to meet a demand in the home country, and in
the training of local workers for these plants. In some cases this will
involve the engineer spending significant periods of time in the
foreign country while in other cases it will only involve a number of
relatively short visits to the foreign country.
4. Implementing modifications to existing products designed for and
previously only sold in the home country that will make them
acceptable for sale in foreign countries. This may involve
modifications to meet differing government regulations and
modifications that ensure that the product is socially acceptable in
these countries. Work in this area often involves interacting with
people in the foreign country who will be selling and in some cases
manufacturing the modified product.
5. Working on projects in the home country in which part of the
design process will be subcontracted to engineers in foreign
countries. Examples of this are the subcontracting of cfd studies to
workers in India and the subcontracting of significant portions of the
design of new automobiles to engineers in Eastern Europe.
6. In working on complex engineering systems in which large parts
of the system are manufactured and in many cases largely designed
in a number of different foreign countries around the world. Modern
commercial aircraft are examples of this type of activity. Both
Boeing and Airbus now have large parts of their new aircraft
produced and designed in various different foreign countries.
This is by no means a complete list of the ways in which
engineers undertake work in an international environment. Work of
this nature has long existed but has not in the past involved so many
practicing engineers.
To illustrate how great the number of companies involved in
producing a complex modern system can be, consider the Boeing 787
• the flight deck and fuselage will be manufactured by Boeing at
• the wings and the fuselage fairings will be manufactured by
Boeing in Winnipeg, Canada,
• the moving leading and trailing edges of the wings will be
manufactured by Boeing at Tulsa and at Boeing Australia.
• manufacture of the centre wing box and installation of the wells
will be undertaken by Japan's Fuji Heavy Industries.
• the mid-forward section of the fuselage will be manufactured by
Kawasaki Heavy Industries
• the wing box will be manufactured by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries
• the all-composite nose section will be built by Spirit Aerosystems
of Wichita.
• the main and nose landing gear will be supplied by Messier-Dowty
of Velizy, France
• the landing gear actuation systems will be provided by Smiths
• the electric braking system will be supplied by Goodrich and
• the pilot controls will be provided by Kaiser Electroprecision
• the common core system (CCS) will be supplied by Smiths
Aerospace UK
• the integrated standby flight display will be supplied by Thales
• the flight control electronics, autopilot and the navigation package
will be provided by Honeywell, of Phoenix, Arizona,
• the mid-section and rear-section of the fuselage including the
tailplane will be manufactured by a joint venture company, Global
Aeronautica, set up by Vought Aircraft Industries and Alenia
• the cabin lighting, which will include a 'simulated sky' ceiling effect
produced by arrays of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) which can change
in colour and brightness will be supplied by Diehl Luftfahrt
• the passenger doors will be provided by the French company
• the nacelles and thrust reverser will be provided by Goodrich
• the primary power distribution system, auxiliary power unit,
environmental control system, primary and remote power distribution
system and the electrical power generating and start system will be
supplied by Hamilton Sundstrand of Windsor Locks Connecticut
Another recent example is the Siemens’ share of a contract to
supply 100 high-speed trains to China. They will supply a number of
components such as various pieces of electrical equipment and the
chassis. The Siemens work will be undertaken in Krefeld-Uerdingen,
Germany, in Nuremberg, Germany, in Graz, Austria, and in
Shanghai, Tianjin and Jinan, China.
In order to work effectively in an international environment the
graduate engineer (1) needs to appreciate and respect the fact that there
are cultural differences between countries and that these differences
need to be recognized and taken into account when developing and
working in international teams, (2) needs to recognize that engineers in
different countries may have somewhat different approaches to
engineering and that they may have somewhat different engineering
skills, (3) must clearly recognize that having a different approach and
somewhat different skills does not make these engineers from other
countries inferior in any way and, depending upon the job being
undertaken, they may in some areas provide an advantage, (4) should
realize that when working in international teams communication
problems can arise that are not connected with language problems but
arise from different social norms.
Engineering programs should, therefore, introduce students
to the reasons why engineering projects, in so many cases, have
become international and also introduce students to the need to be
able to work effectively in international situations. Engineering
programs should introduce students to the importance of being
aware of societal differences that while very important are often
very subtle, and should lead to awareness of the problems that may
arise when working internationally.
Email from Canada:
“I’m arriving in Chicago very late at night so I’m afraid I’ll be
rather bagged at the meeting”
Among the possible ways of introducing engineering
students to the skills and personal outlooks required to work
effectively and productively in foreign countries and with engineers
and other professionals from other countries:
1. Have class discussions and have students prepare brief reports on
the reasons why engineering has become such an international
2. Have students work in project teams that have members from
institutions in other countries. While it is desirable for team
members to meet in person, much can also be learned from having
the team members communicate by e-mail.
3. Arrange to have students spend a period of study or work in a
foreign country and have these students share their experiences with
other students upon their return.
4. Have students undertake international development type projects.
5. Have engineers with experience in working internationally
address the students and discuss their experiences.
6. Have class discussions of the ethical and other problems that can
arise when working internationally.
7. Introduce case studies of problems that have arisen in
international engineering projects. Problems experienced by Airbus
and Boeing in the development of their newer projects are
The introduction of a course that is concerned with the
practice of engineering in an international environment and with
the skills required to work effectively in such an environment into
the curriculum is one approach to introducing the methods
discussed above into an engineering program. This course could
include topics such as international cultural differences and their
influence on the success of international teams and international
ventures. The course could involve a combination of project work,
class discussions, case studies and talks by experienced engineers.
However, the introduction of such a course should not
exclude the discussion of aspects of the practice of engineering in
an international environment in conventional courses in the
Whatever procedures are adopted to develop student awareness of the
practice of engineering in an international environment, the end result
should be graduate engineers who are comfortable when working in
an international environment, who understand that there are societal
and regulatory differences between countries that need to be
accounted for in undertaking work of this type, and who are
accepting of the fact that different groups may have different
strengths and weaknesses.
CDIO, with its international membership and commitment to
the development of curricula that consider all aspects of engineering,
would seem to be an ideal organization to develop sound methods for
bringing international considerations into engineering curricula. Of
course, a number of universities have adopted various approaches to
try to internationalize their programs and have achieved varying
degrees of success. However, none of these universities has had the
benefit of working within an international initiative of the CDIO type
which has collaborators from so many different parts of the world
At present the CDIO Syllabus only clearly mentions
international considerations in 3.2 COMMUNICATION IN FOREIGN
LANGUAGES and today this does not by itself seem to be an adequate
way of bringing international considerations into the curriculum.
Instead it would appear that this area of the Syllabus needs to be
updated. It is suggested therefore that CDIO should establish a group
that would evaluate what has been done in the area of trying to bring
international considerations into engineering curricula and have this
group also gather the views of CDIO member institutions on how this
should be done. Based on this, the group should produce a set of
recommendations as to how best to bring international considerations
into CDIO curricula. They should also recommend how the CDIO
Syllabus should be modified to more completely reflect the need to
bring these considerations into the curriculum.
With engineering activities being increasingly undertaken on
an international stage it appears that it is important to provide
exposure to this in engineering educational programs. Some possible
methods of doing this have been discussed here. A brief discussion
of the need for CDIO to take an active role in developing improved
methodologies for bringing international considerations into
engineering curricula has also been given.